Monday, December 14, 2009

Sky and Lake, December

(Sky and Lake, December- Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
watercolor on paper, 2009)


To all who have looked at, read, and listened to the works here at BETWEEN WATERS this past year, I give my sincere thanks.

I will be back in 2010 with more journeys and meditations inspired by Lake Champlain and the power of place.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

November Poem and Paintings

( Lake Champlain, Autumn Light;
Lake, Island, Clouds

Paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown,
watercolor on paper, 2009)


Barge Canal, November

Having found
Love in the loomings
Of blue, layered

Having tasted
Freshness and renewal
In the ecstatic gray waters of
Now, November

I stand amazed
Where silver
Sunlight finds
Wavetops, then seeks,
Going deeper,
The sounded bottom:
Ledge and sand and
Ripples, unseen,
Of energy—

But felt in my own
Moving waters.

Sedges holding secrets,
Today the Barge Canal
Smells like split pine and
Bleeding poplar.

Across, on the other shore,
Birch leaves glow with
resonance, holding on,

For now

in wind across water.

-Kevin Macneil Brown

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Two October Paintings

( October Beach 2 ( Acrylic on canvas),

Toward Isle La Motte (watercolor on paper)

Paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown, 2009)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

North Beach, End of Summer

North Beach, End of Summer (Burlington, Vermont)
Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, acrylic on canvas, 2009)

Monday, September 14, 2009

Lakescape/ Skyscape/ Soundscape

This video combines paintings and soundwork that I made during the spring and summer of 2009. It is intended as a contemplative evocation of Lake Champlain in the early morning: sounds, sights, and textures of a time and place where water, light, listening, and perception might come quietly together.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Crossing the Lake in September

(Early September, Lake Champlain from Burlington Bay-
Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, acrylic on canvas, 2009)


Blue Sky
Broken clouds

Dark wing shadow

(Crossing the
lake in September,
inner silence)

Scumbled blessings
Contrast of
Light and shadow

Reflected back,
the True World of

Love, that silence:

Blue water breathing.

-Kevin Macneil Brown

from THE MALLEABLE JOURNEY: POEMS (Liminal Editions, 2009)

Available at:

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Across Waves, Across Surface Tension (Poem and Painting)

( Shelburne Bay, August - Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
acrylic on canvas, 2009)


Ancient strength
and curve of flow of
waters between

Lone Rock Point’s
time-stilled geology

open arms of
Appletree Bay.

South, across waves,
across surface tension

(the massive Rock Dunder)

changing, becomes,

in changing light
and beyond long journey,

a gray, weathered sail
or resting eagle.

- Kevin Macneil Brown

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer: Water, Land, and Light

( Odzihozo, Sailboat, Juniper Island (Lake Champlain) --Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor on paper, 2009)

At the Lake Champlain shore, water, land, and sky come together in ways that create constantly changing light, shifting vistas. Even from a single vantage point, the total effect--of color, of atmosphere, of dimensions and spatial relationships between objects and landmarks-- can change radically from moment to moment. Noticing this, I can't help but think of Odzihozo, the Abenaki creator and transformer, present visibly now as the majestic rock in the bay.
The painting above is an attempt to capture a moment on the lake: a recent July morning just after fog had lifted to reveal a shimmering and paradoxical combination of haze and luminosity.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Invocation: Lake Champlain

Between Waters I , Between Waters II- Paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown,
watercolor on paper, acrylic on canvas, 2009)


from stone sky mountains
these waters
run together here

into the long,
blue lake ringed
with russet rock, cool green islands

Otter Creek
are a few of the names
given to sacred waters
moving into this
strong confluence

and the long view
in all directions
as if trying to take in the entire way:
Saint Lawrence to Atlantic via cold Gaspe

here today, the hollow
Wind-borne sound
Of new and ancient waves

echoing calls of
ducks and geese and loon
scattered in arrival,
departure; migration

we might well choose now
to welcome the always
of eagle, heron,

returning to find the same
ever-changing place that we ourselves
behold and become

at the heart of these
pulsing, shimmering waters
this living inland sea.

-Kevin Macneil Brown
July, 2009


Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Lifting Fog/ Searching for Ferris Rock (Painting and Soundwork)

(Lifting Fog, Lake Champlain- painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
acrylic on canvas, 2009)

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lake in Early Summer Light

Lake in Early Summer Light- Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
watercolor on paper, June 2009)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Champlain and Islands

( Sunset, Lake Champlain--Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
acrylic on canvas, 2009)

Champlain (160?)

Islands {Piscataqua- (Shoals),

Three Turk’s Heads,
Cape Ann}

Saudade , 7 years


Osprey, strong and swift
to delve....

( reaching under,
pulling out and up...

-Kevin Macneil Brown


availalable at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont

and at:

Monday, June 1, 2009


( April , Odzihozo with Waters and Mountains, Lake Champlain-
Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown, acrylic on canvas, 2007)

Cedar flute
clamshell holding smoldering wood
sharp knife worn around the neck
(these the things thought to be carried by an Abenaki hunter)
Winooski intervale and just above-- railroad tracks you walked on, the river widening out below, beginning a meander, newly fecund on the way to the big lake-- marks early settlements of original people of

ODZIHOZO ( the one who made himself)
made the vein-like tracings of all the world's waterways
web of rivers, ponds, lakes in the NW country
his ultimate creation was the big lake he rested upon, in the form of a ROCK above
still there, looming, in fog or ice or clear sailing....
...made by the one who made himself- -who rests satisfied, at peace, with a view for all time of the edge of his world.

-Kevin Macneil Brown

from "Watershed--Letter to John Puleio, Number Two", published in NORTH COAST DREAMING/LUMINIST DIARY (Liminal Editions, 2008.)
Available at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vermont, or here:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Running Along the Shores of an Inland Sea


By Kevin Macneil Brown

(This article originally appeared, in slightly different form, in NEW ENGLAND RUNNER magazine)

My first running encounter with the Lake Champlain waterfront in Burlington, Vermont nearly fifteen years ago was, well, painful. The final miles of the Vermont City Marathon followed the Bikeway here along the shoreline of Appletree and Burlington Bays, taking in stunning lake and mountain vistas. But in my bonked, wiped-out, crashed-the-wall condition, I could barely register all that majestic beauty. Somehow, though, I knew I’d have to come back, to explore this shoreline under more relaxed circumstances. As it turns out, repeat excursions have opened up a runner’s paradise that also happens to be rich in scenery, nature, and the traces of a thrilling maritime history.
And running doesn’t get much better than it does this breezy, sunny morning, after lake fog has lifted to reveal clear blue waters and wrap-around mountains. Lake Champlain stretches south to north for 120 miles, from southern Vermont to Canada, with the high, craggy Adirondack country of New York at its western border, the long ridgeline of the highest Green Mountains of Vermont a few miles inland to the east.
I’m drinking all of this in as I run on a narrow dirt trail beside the paved bike path. The Bikeway runs through two towns and covers more than 12 miles, from its start at Oakledge Park in Burlington to its terminus at the end of the Colchester Causeway, and there are plenty of additional side trails and detours possible. Each mile, each turn along the shore, seems to offer a new perspective: a moving meditation on mountains, water, and open sky.
And on history, too. This now-peaceful lake was once the “northwest coast” of New England, a waterway crucial not only to settlement and commerce, but also invasion and war. For generations, Abenaki and Iroquois Indians lived near and traveled on these waters, fishing and hunting the islands, shores, and open waters. Samuel de Champlain showed up in 1609, down from New France (Canada) on a voyage of exploration. Champlain, a fairly reasonable and temperate fellow by most accounts, commented in his journal on the beauty of the mountain-ringed lake and its many green islands. But he was also the first European to use deadly force in this region: he made friends with his northern Indian guides, and joined them in a raid against the Iroquois to the south, putting his gun to work in the killing of enemy warriors.
The next two centuries saw more war and bloodshed on Lake Champlain, including the first naval battle in our country’s history, when Benedict Arnold led a roughhewn, out-gunned, and out-numbered fleet against the British in the waters off Valcour Island in October of 1776. Though the patriots lost the battle, they staved off a British advance from the north, buying time for the nascent American Revolution. Not far from the site of that battle--well north and west, by water, of where I’m running today--cannon thundered and blood flowed again in 1814 at Plattsburgh Bay. The big guns could be heard across the lake here in Burlington that September day; That night every bell in the city rang out at the news of British defeat and American victory.
Running past the glittering boats moored in the harbor, I’m reminded of these deadly battles by the arresting sight of the Lake Champlain Navy Memorial. Rising from the center of a carved stone compass is a statue of a man known as the Lone Sailor, duffel bag beside him, eyes toward the lake and the mountainous horizon. I can’t help but stop for a silent moment, remembering the struggles of the past and giving thanks that we’ve found more pacific uses for Lake Champlain these days: the sails that fill the horizon here today might offer adventure, but not war.
The Burlington waterfront is well-traveled by cyclists, rollerbladers, walkers, and runners. And heading either north or south along the Bikeway offers sights worth seeing. To the north, the sands of North Beach and Leddy Park offer a chance for some rare Vermont beach running. An arching bridge over the wide mouth of the Winooski river spans a view of waters and wetlands rich with birdlife: heron, sandpiper, osprey; the ever-present skeins of canada geese and long-necked, shadow-black cormorants.
Just past this lush Winooski River delta, after a short run through a lakeside neighborhood and a pleasant stretch that follows a tree-shaded stretch of trail (in the town of Colchester now), comes the gem of the Bikeway. The Colchester Causeway is an abandoned railroad bed, built on white marble boulders, that curves, open and exposed, for more than two miles out into the lake. Running on this narrow path, surrounded by the blue-green lake, is pure exhilaration: a liminal journey as close to running on water as I have ever experienced. On calm days, waves lap at the stone causeway gently. On windy days, the waves crash and break with some force, adding a few thrills to the day’s run. At the end of the causeway, a short channel--the Cut, as locals call it-- allows for boat traffic, and Vermont’s Grand Isle beckons from the other side. (A bike ferry runs across the Cut on August weekends, and extended ferry service is planned for the future.)
But for today’s run I’m heading south. I stride past the busy harbor and waterfront: Perkins’s Pier, with its array of moored fiberglass and wooden craft sparkling in the sun; the Burlington ferry dock, where the car-ferry VALCOUR is just heading out for New York across the lake, blowing her deep-toned horn.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that a waterway so active with shipping has seen its share of wrecks, that the lake floor is littered with hundreds of lost vessels. One of them, the GENERAL BUTLER, lies submerged just inside the breakwater right here in the harbor, in 40 feet of water. Carrying a heavy load of quarried marble, the schooner went down in 1876, when a winter gale slammed it into the stone breakwater. Those aboard leaped onto the breakwater, and were rescued, shivering, from their brutally windswept and wave-battered sanctuary. Today, the sunken schooner is a Mecca for wreck divers; a silent ghost, preserved in cold, clear water beneath the hulls of the living boats that pass above her.
Within minutes, I pass the railyards and the ancient bridge at the inlet to the dark and eerie-looking Pine Street Barge Canal, where faint traces still remain of how this city must have looked and felt and smelled during the 1800s. Back then, Burlington was a thriving port in the lumber trade, a rough- and- ready terminal for the shipping and storage of acres and acres of felled and sawn northern forest. The working waterfront has a different face now, of course, catering to tourists, boaters, and outdoors enthusiasts rather than loggers and canal-barge captains.
After a while I find ways to vary the terrain beneath my feet: I jump off the path and run along rock seawalls; I dig my shoes into loose sand on a short stretch of urban beach scattered with driftwood hurdles at water’s edge. All the while I feast my senses on the sweeping bay views before, behind, and around me, on the variety of people who use this path every day.
My urge for off-road running is satisfied, if only briefly, by the rocky, rooted trail up into the cliffs at Oakledge Park. Here, I might be forgiven for thinking I’m at the seashore somewhere in northern Maine as I run on shaded, pine-needle-cushioned trails, or leap from rock to rock while waves break, wetting my shoes. At times, the narrow trail comes dangerously close to the exposed red sandstone cliffs. It’s a sheer drop into the lake from here, and I have to balance my greed for the amazing maritime view with a more pressing need to focus on the slippery, wet rock beneath my feet.
Out there in the lake below, between Shelburne Point and pine-clad Juniper Island, sits a massive rock that in Western Abenaki tradition is considered the most important feature on Lake Champlain. Odzihozo-- Rock Dunder to the “English” -- is the creator/transformer in Western Abenaki cosmology. After he created the world--and, most importantly, Lake Champlain-- he shaped himself into this rock, where he could rest for eternity and forever admire his work.
Time after time, as I run along the edges of Burlington Bay, I find myself looking toward Odzihozo; as if to get my bearings; as if to get myself centered somehow within the huge sweep of history and landscape this shoreline reveals. Perhaps it’s fitting that an ancient creator deity would be ever-present, yet ever-changing: appearing slightly different from day to day, from hour to hour and with each shift in the light, the weather, the angle of view.
Leaving the shade of the cliffs, I turn around and head north for a few miles. By now the sun is high and the day is hotter. I watch the silver wakes of boats limn the deep blue water. By now I’m sweating hard, and ready for refreshment. At North Beach I take a quick swim, then rent a kayak for an hour’s paddle out around Lone Rock Point to Apple Tree Bay. After that, it’s time for a lunch of energy bar and sports drink, and some time spent basking in the sun.
Burlington Bay is sublime in the sunshine. But the towering afternoon clouds rolling in are magnificent, too. They filter the lowering, slanting light, sending green-gold rays beaming across the mountaintops, the water, and the sails that dot the horizon.
Though my legs are still a little tired, I feel, in the cooling air, a surprising resurgence of energy. Suddenly, it crosses my mind that the ferry across the broad lake runs all day and into the evening. A new temptation appears before me. After all, I could make it to the dock in time to catch the next crossing, and treat myself to another run, over on the New York side...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Seven Islands: Images and Soundworks

This video combines some of my visual art meditations and explorations of Lake Champlain with a soundwork composition from my 2006 project BETWEEN WATERS.

The music was made with guitar, steel guitar, voice, and what I call sound smear: digital and analog audio processing. The text for the spoken layer is extracted from various journal entries from my trips to the lake and shoreline.

My experience of the lake has led me to a perception of shifting strata: water, land, sky, light, shadow; the powerful persistence of the past arising to fill a present moment.

(Here is the text of the spoken word layer, taken from my lake journals:

9:10 am

Approaching the water, bands of soft green, dark blue ( warm and cold , deep and shoal juxtaposed visibly). The ferry - EVANS WADHAM WOLCOTT- pulls out silently, with barely perceptible motion, out past sparkling boats inside the stone breakwater. August sun is low and mellow. Across the green Mountains a line of clouds, like smoking volcanos beneath clear blue sky.

Sipping a brash Speeder and Earl's coffee, I feel something run from soul to synapse-- An idea that's been brewing long inside me rises, whole.
It's about the deep need, to feel and learn and KNOW the wholeness of a place; the levels of truth and story and history and geology and war and peace and land-form and bird migrations that, once sensed and held in the heart, bring that deep and profound wholeness.. .
So by way of all this ---like shapes of mountains and forests, a structure for a narrative begins to be revealed, in sections (core?) (skeleton?) ( island and Bay?).
Find the deep balm that heals the death and violence of blood and battles on these waters (1776, 1814, earlier)... The truth --of form, of shape, of feel-- that land and waters reveal, endlessly, again and again.

describe birds, the seaplane landing on surface tension's glitter, boats...sense of iron ore beaches on NY side I run on

Formation, settlement, abandonment...
Odzihozo ( The Abenaki Maker deity)

1776,1813, Indian battles before written history,
the skeletons dug up this year in old North End--(soldiers of 1812 war)

Lone Rock Point...force of Geology, time, and yearning.

CROSSING (Return across same waters...)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Lake and Islands in October Light

Island Studies, 3,1,2 ( paintings by Kevin Macneil Brown, watercolor on paper)

Three fast sketches made from the beach wall at Mark's Bay in South Burlington, VT, near sunset , October 11, 2008.
The idea was to capture energy rather than detail: the pulse of water, sunlight, sky, and landforms.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Evening Shore

Evening Shore- (Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
acrylic on canvas, April 2009)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dawn Shore

Dawn Shore- (painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
watercolor on paper, April, 2009)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Two Poems About Samuel de Champlain

(Mark's Bay, Lake Champlain- Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
acrylic on canvas, 2008)

Samuel De Champlain

Astrolabe, lead line
lineaments of ungratified...
desire: 29 voyages 1599 to 1633

Master mariner, marriage
perhaps unconsummated ?;
childless but for
three adopted Indian daughters,
Faith, Hope, Charity,
later lost to politics.

But found so much land and
water between fog and clear sailing!

Observation, involvement,
engagement- chose sides in battle.
(but, in all fairness, a man of
moderation, the
middle path: witness his
distaste for torture, his
essential human kindness).

The Good Catholic,
tolerant of others, Protestants and
Indian souls to be saved
(this succeeded only with sick native
baptized at death’s door)

Did he take offense
at metrical Psalms sung
loudly from Protestant, Huguenot
ships- a quarantined “church” in the harbor?

Years later, Helene, his wife,
takes orders in an Ursuline convent.

His grave unknown,
an astrolabe his only
surviving object,

Place names and a
rich topography,

Rivers and bays,
a monumental silence.

Rich and fecund river mouth
islands of nine or seven summits,
spruce and birch, white pine, beech

Champlain saw:
"ospreys, heron, curlews
others in infinite numbers
that come in their seasons..."

Lists among the
hawks and falcons:
"Less common than those named, one
with gray plumage on back
and white on the belly, as
large and fat as a hen,
with one foot like the talon
of a bird of prey, with which
it catches fish; the other

like that of a duck.
The latter serves
for swimming in the water when he dives for fish.

This bird is not
supposed to be found, except in
New France. "

Is there a continuous line
from Norumbega to here and now?

migration assume another
dimension across
boundaries that don’t exist?

-Kevin Macneil Brown

Available at Bear Pond Books, Monpelier, Vermont
or here:

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Passage- Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
watercolor on paper, 2009

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Departure Map

(Kevin Macneil Brown, mixed media, 2009)

This link will lead you to some soundworks I composed and recorded in 2006, inspired by explorations of the lake and shorelines:

Champlain and the Power of New England Time and Space

(VIEW FROM ISLE LA MOTTE- Painting by Kevin Macneil Brown,
acrylic on canvas, 2008)


By Kevin Macneil Brown

One need only read Samuel de Champlain’s 1632 treatise on seamanship to know that the French explorer was not only a master mariner, but also a man of good humor and deep, careful thought. And it should come as no surprise to learn that, after long and difficult voyages, Champlain could always find the best harbors, the safest anchorages. After all, such an ability, along with courage and clear thinking, is part of the mariner’s—-and the adventurer’s –-art.
So why would I be surprised to find that, in northern New England, when I come across a place of particular power, where water and land intersect and interchange, Champlain would have been there—-with all his senses and faculties wide open and engaged-- before me, before any of us, 400 years ago.

I learned about Champlain when I was eight years old. I was spending one of many summers in the seaport, fishing city of Gloucester, Massachusetts, the place both my parents came from. Beauport was the name Champlain gave to that beautiful long harbor with its enclosing arms of land to the east and west, when, after a brief offshore visit in 1605, he thought well enough of the place to return and explore it in 1606.
That long-ago summer my grandfather showed me a tarnished-to-green copper plaque -—I think it was in East Gloucester, somewhere among all the little art galleries, the jumble of boats at dock or pulled up and resting on dry land that seemed to fill every available open space. On the plaque was an inscription honoring Champlain’s arrival.
Champlain had anchored offshore, landing his party with the usual flotilla of small boats. He eventually made a beautiful and accurate map of the region, one that showed the location and architecture of Native American villages, and he wrote in careful detail in his journal, describing flora and fauna, the shapes of land and water.
Thanks to Champlain I could--and still do--imagine that time and place. And to this day, when I return to Gloucester, I cannot look out beyond the surf of Good Harbor Beach or the white breakers on dark Bass Rocks without seeing French ships out there, riding at anchor in line with what are named now Straitsmouth and Thacher’s, those long, low islands just ahead of the horizon.


Though I spent summers in Gloucester, I grew up in New Hampshire, in the foothills of the White Mountains. New Hampshire’s seacoast is, of course, contiguous with those of Maine and Massachusetts, and on the 1605 voyage, Champlain and his men, sailing in the waters of what is now Casco Bay, caught sight of those mountains looming granite-gray some 60 miles inland.
In New Hampshire, even a hundred miles from the shore, it seems that you always know the ocean is there; that big rivers like the Connecticut and the Merrimac are never far from being subsumed in their estuaries and, at last, the open Atlantic.
In land-locked Vermont it’s a different story. Yet even here the closest thing to a coastline bears the name—-and thus the presence—-of Samuel de Champlain.


When I came to live in Vermont more than 20 years ago, I found out the hard way that I missed the ocean with all my being. My love for the mountains, the hills, the forests, farms, and villages was never in doubt. But there was also a craving for salt air and long, open horizons; a craving that actually hurt my heart—-a palpable presence of yearning deep inside me.
Over the course of a few years I read about Champlain’s 1609 voyage down from New France to the waters of the big lake with Indian guides and escorts; his involvement in Indian battles, leading to what were likely the first warlike European gunshots fired within sight and sound of the big lake; his optimistic--and, to our minds, perhaps, misguided--belief that New France could welcome the new world’s native people into a peaceful, plentiful Christian assembly. Following that foreshadowing, I learned about the lake’s later history as both a corridor of trade and a pathway for war and invasion.
I also learned about the lake’s sacred and central place in Western Abenaki cosmology and religion. Bitagw, they called it: land and water in layers, alternating. With all these things in mind, I let my imagination follow its own voyage as I went for long, scenic runs alongside the shoreline in Burlington, Charlotte, and Shelburne, loving the views of blue water and dark pines and not-so-distant mountains. I even began to get a small taste of my beloved ocean from Lake Champlain, even if it was a taste noticeably lacking in salt.
But none of this prepared me for the power of time and place I would find one day at Champlain’s ancient anchorage --and the likely locus of his landing-- on the western shore of what we now call Isle la Motte.


In Vermont’s Champlain islands, crossings are at the heart of travel: bridges, causeways; the sandbars they are built upon. And one is never far from the way blue and silver-streaked water reflects the light of sky and sun, the mantled blue haze of mountains. In October there is a russet glow on hayed meadows and on the reeds and rushes in shallow waters, a lush smell of late apples on the trees in failing afternoon light. And again, almost always, a streak of lake water on some horizon.
At the Fisk Quarry on Isle La Motte, not far from the northwestern shore, are the remains of the ancient Chazy Reef formation that formed when this place was beneath the long-gone Iapetus Ocean. (I use the word “place”; but exactly what does that mean when this physical evidence itself has been in motion; when, before the continents reached their current location, those ancient events actually took place close to the Equator, near what is present-day Zimbabwe?)
At Fisk Quarry, layers of limestone—-like frozen, silenced time-- are open to our sight and other senses. Striated and sculptured blocks of stone rise over pools of still water, and fossilized remains of Ordovician Period creatures sit right there on the surface of the rock, where rain and snow and sun can find them now, some 450 million years after they lived.
Finding the shoreline from here and following it Northwest leads to the site of an event much more recent in ancient history: the place where Champlain made a landing in 1609, marveling in his journal at the length of this island and its forests. On this shore is the site of what became the French Fort Saint Anne in 1666-- the short-lived first European Settlement in what was later to be Vermont. The ideals Champlain had held were part of the past. These soldiers and Jesuits said what was likely the first Mass heard on Vermont shores, and then garrisoned themselves against Indian attacks. One can imagine the intensity of living in that tiny island community, nearby to those waters in all seasons-- from sultry summer to wind-swept, snow-covered winter; with the cold autumn fog rising from open water to warming sky in the morning; in the winter an iced-in wilderness outpost made up of soldiers living packed together in isolation and a state of alert, far from what they thought of as home.
The gray-brown beach is there today. There’s a long view across water to the New York shore and the looming Adirondacks: serried, and dark except for the places where rent clouds pour out autumn sun to silver the bare, rocky summits.
On the rolling land that overlooks this scene are spread the grottoes and chapels, the statues and luminaries, of The Shrine of Saint Anne De Beaupre. It’s a place for prayer, built on the remains of the abandoned French military fort by Vermont Catholics at the end of the 1800s. Up against the hillside stands a stunning and and colossal golden statue of Our Lady of Lourdes.(In the early 20th century she watched over a cathedral in Burlington, and was rescued from a fire in 1972.) Crowned now with electric light bulbs, in season she sends her light out above the Stations of the Cross and over the waters.
Champlain might well have approved. He was a devout Catholic, even adopting three orphaned Indian girls and naming them Faith, Hope, and Charity. After his death, his wife Helene took orders and entered an Ursuline convent in France.
Champlain’s bones most likely rest in Quebec-- what was once the New France he helped found. The whereabouts of his body are not known for sure, but his astrolabe, the tool with which he measured the positions of celestial bodies to find his place on the ocean, remains as a relic. It was found in 1867 by a 14-year-old farm boy at the site of a rough Ontario portage, right where Champlain dropped it in 1613.


Inland, in Montpelier, on the same morning that I began to read Champlain’s journals and Samuel Eliot Morison’s wonderful biography of the explorer, I walked into town to work. Along US Route 2-(which itself was once an Indian path) in the breakdown lane above the Winooski River bank, lay the ripped and wind-scattered pages of an old, discarded world atlas: sun-faded, mud-smeared maps spread at random intervals for a half-mile or so along my way. It seemed strangely appropriate; in tune with the moment.
A few years later, on my first trip to Isle La Motte, I ran on the beach. Little waves broke against the shore, and I made sure to put my feet in the water, even though it was late October, cold, gray and overcast. Moving in that water and under the pale sky, I could feel, in an instant, the long stretch of time and space—-of history, myth, and geology; of human hopes and fears and prayers-- that arrived at the here and now.
The copper sun shone through for a moment, a burnished pale disc in the afternoon sky. Its light made a streak of silver across the water. That light might have marked—-for just a moment-- the line those Indian and French boats followed, leading them to what they found.

(This piece was originally published, in slightly different form, in THE MONTPELIER BRIDGE.)